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Updated with additional comment from DroneDeploy
When we think of drones, it tends to be all about the hardware, and we forget all about the software that will actually make them useful. That's especially true for the enterprise, where companies can use drone technology to enhance their business.
DroneDeploy is a cloud software platform for commercial drones, allowing businesses to control multiple drones, from anywhere, on any device. That means it can be used in a variety of spaces and industries, which can have a real world impact, such as agriculture and mining.
The company announced on Wednesday that it has raised $20 million in Series B financing, in a round led by Scale Venture Partners, with participation from High Alpha Capital, as well as existing investors.
DroneDeploy had previously raised $11 million in funding, including a $9 million round in March of last year. This last funding brings its total raised to $31 million.
Founded in 2013, the AngelPad graduate provides cloud control software solutions for drones that include automated flight safety checks, workflows, real-time mapping and data processing. Since it doesn't work on the hardware side, only focusing on software, DroneDeploy has partnered with drone manufacturers, including 3D Robotics and AgEagle, to provide its software to end users in a variety of industries.
To use DroneDeploy, all a user has to do is describe their mission, and DroneDeploy will build a dynamic flight path that avoids other aircraft, airports, and even urban areas, while respecting local laws.
So, for example, a farmer can use a drone to see which parts of their field need more care and generate crop health maps. Or a construction company can use drones to create 3D models of buildings. Mining companies can use them to estimate volumes of stockpiles.
The idea is to open drones up to any industry, making them accessible and easy to use, without having to have any expertise in drone technology.
DroneDeploy is growing quickly. The company is now being used by businesses in 130 countries, who have used the software to map over 5 million acres. The amount of data generated by their users is doubling every four months. The company has tens of thousands of users globally.
The company says it will use the funds to enable businesses to "extract even deeper insights."
"We are an open drone platform and process images from all drones so we see a lot of data. We also have users across all industry verticals - from agriculture, construction and surveying, to inspection, emergency response and oil & gas. One of the things that we've seen consistently across industries is that prosumer drones meet the vast majority of use cases," Darr Gerscovich, SVP of Marketing at DroneDeploy, told me.
"Drones have improved tremendously in the last two years and are now very reliable, accurate and safe. So our advice is that before you invest tens of thousands of dollars in a high-end drone, purchase a relatively inexpensive off-the-shelf drone, such as the DJI Phantom 4 or Inspire, and give it a try. You'll be amazed at how it can help you make faster and better business decisions."
"DroneDeploy’s mission is to make the sky more accessible and productive for anyone, so you should expect us to continue developing powerful capabilities that are easy to use. We've had tremendous success with SMB and mid-market companies across all industries, and have been seeing increasingly strong interest from large enterprises," said Gerscovich.
"In light of Part 107 coming into effect and the traction we've experienced, we're developing solutions that meet the needs of large organizations that are looking to use drones across their organization."
Part 107 are the FAA's operating rules for commercial drones, which were announced in June. The timing of this funding is interesting, as it comes less than a week before these rules are going to implemented.
The rules establish an acceptable altitude of 400 feet above the ground, though higher if the drone remains within 400 feet of a structure, and a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour. They prohibit flying over people who aren't "directly participating in the operation," as well as flying at night.
The rules also allow for the carrying of an external load, as long as it's securely attached and does not adversely affect the flight characteristics or controllability of the aircraft.
DroneDeploy expects that these regulations will lead to more people, and businesses, adopting drone technology.
"Drone adoption has been growing rapidly, and there are simply not enough pilots of manned aircraft as required by 333 exemptions to keep up with demand. The FAA’s Part 107 rule eliminates some of the most significant barriers to commercial drone use, and will open doors to huge amounts of value for many industries," said Gerscovich.
The most significant change under Part 107, he said, is that operating drones commercially no longer requires a pilot’s license and section 333 exemption. Until now, the need for a licensed pilot was "the most significant bottleneck to many businesses looking to expand drone operations."
"Instead of requiring a pilot’s license to operate a drone commercially, the FAA will only require a 'Remote Pilot Certificate,' which will be awarded after passing a written knowledge test (which will go live on Monday, Aug. 29 at one of 700 testing centers located around the United States). The new certification will also be much more affordable than the current $7,000 cost to obtain a license to pilot manned aircraft," Gerscovich explained.
In addition to the funding, it was also announced that Rory O'Driscoll, founding member and Partner at Scale Venture Partners, who also sits on the boards of Box and DocuSign, is joinging the board of directors at DroneDeploy.
"DroneDeploy takes the most successful software business model of the past decade, SaaS, and applies it to one of the most exciting growth trends in technology today, the rapid adoption of commercial drones," O'Driscoll said in a statement.
"Couple that with an extensible SaaS platform that meets the needs of many industries, an extremely passionate user community and high growth velocity, and they are well positioned to drive drone adoption in the enterprise. DroneDeploy has a compelling cloud service that is facilitating a number of exciting use cases worldwide that simply would not be possible with manned aircraft or satellites."
"Rory has been a part of several SaaS enterprise success stories in Silicon Valley, including Box, DocuSign and ExactTarget. His deep experience, coupled with DroneDeploy's cloud-based SasS offering and the timing of Part 107, make for a great match. Rory brings additional strategic vision and experience to the board that will help us continue to scale and grow aggressively," Gerscovich said.
The drone space
Funding for startups in the drone space hit an all time time high in 2015, raising over $450 million across 74 deals. There were 11 deals of at least $10 million, versus just eight of those in the previous three years combined.
This year there has been a flurry of activity as well, including SLANTRANGE, a developer of smart aerial remote sensing and analytics for agriculture, which raised $5 million; Sharper Shape, an automated drone-based asset inspections company, which raised $3.25 million; SkySquirrel Technologies, a provider of drone-based technology for monitoring and improving crop health, which raised $1 million; Airware, develops an operating system for commercial drones, which raised $30 million; Sky-Futures, a drone startup that flies drones around oil rigs and gas pipelines, which raised $5.7 million; AirMap, a startup that provides drone operators with airspace information to let them know when and where they can fly, which raised $15 million; and Kespry, which designs automated drone systems for commercial use, and which raised $16 million.
Still, its a relatively new space, and one with a lot of room to grow.
"We’re still young, but growing fast. In the next few years we'll continue driving industry innovation and democratizing the skies. It comes down to helping businesses of all sizes and industries make faster and better business decisions with drones," Gerscovich toldme.
"Drones will become part of the fabric of the internet of Things (IoT), not only identifying issues but also resolving them. As we saw in our recent Commercial Drone Industry Trends report, DroneDeploy is now being used in more than 130 countries, and will grow even more in the coming years. But currently our main focus is growing the company, penetrating the enterprise market, and delivering real value through drones today."
(Image source: dronedeploy.com)